Lawyer For Catholic Church

Lawyer For Catholic Church

The Holy See also employs lawyers when there is a lawsuit in the Utah District Courts. There are also canon lawyers who first attend seminary then go to canon law school. At Ascent Law LLC, we represent churches in court.

The biggest school of canon law in the United States is at Catholic University. The largest one in Rome is at Gregorian University. American canon lawyers frequently go on to work as judges or advocates in the ecclesiastical courts run by dioceses around the country. Their Vatican counterparts do the same in official church tribunals. The best of them reach one of the top three ecclesiastical courts of Rome: the Roman Rota, the church’s highest appellate court; the Apostolic Penitentiary, the secret court that deals with private matters that come up during confession; and the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican’s Supreme Court. (The most common cases to reach the Signature involve administrative disputes, like the transfer of priests.) In each court, a panel of judges investigates and rules on religious matters from disputes over excommunication to marriage annulments. Anyone who appears before the court has the right to a canonical attorney. The work of civil lawyers and canon lawyers often overlaps. For example, it’s fairly easy for couples to get divorced under American civil law. Canon law, however, makes it more difficult to get a marriage annulled in the eyes of the church. A Catholic couple may therefore want to consult both civil and canon lawyers. In the child-abuse cases, both the plaintiffs and the Holy See have consulted canon lawyers to help shape their arguments. The plaintiffs in the Kentucky suit, for example, claim that a 1962 Vatican document mandated that bishops not report sex-abuse cases to authorities. Lawyers for the Vatican argue that the document, as interpreted under canon law, says nothing of the sort. Over the past decade, survivors of sexual abuse around the world have stepped forward with allegations that their abusers were Roman Catholic Church clergy. Many have told disturbing stories of abuse that occurred while they were still children. The wave of allegations has spurred a movement toward holding individual clergy, and the church leadership and institutions that enabled them, to account. In jurisdictions across the country, including in Illinois, New York, and California, survivors have sought that accountability through civil legal actions for damages and other relief.

Obtaining Accountability for Clergy Abuse through the Courts

There are many ways to seek accountability for clergy abuse. Survivors play a role in criminal prosecutions of their abusers. They organize fellow survivors. They advocate for change within the church and outside of it. Survivors nationwide have also found accountability through the courts. A civil legal action against individual clergy members and church institutions can give survivors the opportunity to investigate and shine a light on church practices that fostered clergy abuse. In most jurisdictions, survivors of clergy sexual abuse have the right to sue to recover damages and other relief from their abusers and anyone who facilitated the abuse. Every jurisdiction has its own window of time in which survivors can file those claims. In Utah, the time limits vary depending on how old the victim was at the time of the abuse.

What a Lawsuit for Clergy Abuse Can Accomplish

The wounds of clergy abuse do not heal easily. Survivors often carry the physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual scars clergy abuse inflicts for their entire lives. A civil lawsuit for money damages cannot take away survivors’ pain, but it can help them find much-needed support. A civil action may also help further goals of preventing further clergy abuse. Many jurisdictions, allow for the recovery of punitive damages in cases of intentional harm. These damages serve to punish and deter sexual misconduct. Courts also award injunctive relief in some cases, which essentially amounts to a court order that directs wrongdoers to take preventive actions so that clergy abuse does not recur. Survivors of clergy abuse have filed suit individually, while others have joined together in group litigation. Whatever the form a lawsuit takes, the types of monetary and other relief they may recover are more or less the same. Of course, a positive outcome is never a guarantee in any lawsuit. However, many recent lawsuits against the church and individual abusers have demonstrated it is possible for survivors to recover substantial amounts of money and to achieve meaningful other forms of relief that help to prevent clergy abuse.

When Clergy Abuse Claims Must Be Filed

Time limits for filing clergy sexual abuse claims vary from state to state, so please make sure to consult an experienced clergy abuse attorney when considering filing a legal action against individual clergy or the church. Under California law, for example, survivors of clergy sexual abuse that happened when the plaintiff was over 18 must presently file a claim no later than:
• 10 years from the date of the last act, attempted act, or assault with the intent to commit an act, of sexual assault; or
• Three years from the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that an injury or illness resulted from an act, attempted act, or assault with the intent to commit an act, of sexual assault.
Survivors of clergy sexual abuse that happened when the survivor was under 18, in contrast, can pursue a claim until the later of:
• Eight years from the date the plaintiff turns 18; or
• Three years from the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring after turning 18 was caused by the sexual abuse.

What a Lawsuit for Clergy Abuse Can Accomplish

The wounds of clergy abuse do not heal easily. Survivors often carry the physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual scars clergy abuse inflicts for their entire lives. A civil lawsuit for money damages cannot take away survivors’ pain, but it can help them find much-needed support. A civil action may also help further goals of preventing further clergy abuse. Many jurisdictions, allow for the recovery of punitive damages in cases of intentional harm. These damages serve to punish and deter sexual misconduct. Courts also award injunctive relief in some cases, which essentially amounts to a court order that directs wrongdoers to take preventive actions so that clergy abuse does not recur. Survivors of clergy abuse have filed suit individually, while others have joined together in group litigation. Whatever the form a lawsuit takes, the types of monetary and other relief they may recover are more or less the same. Of course, a positive outcome is never a guarantee in any lawsuit. However, many recent lawsuits against the church and individual abusers have demonstrated it is possible for survivors to recover substantial amounts of money and to achieve meaningful other forms of relief that help to prevent clergy abuse.
Excommunication is the most severe form of ecclesiastical penalty and is used only as an absolute last resort. Excommunicants remain Catholic because of baptism and still obligated to attend Mass, but they are deprived of all sacraments (except for the Sacrament of Penance). For example, you can go to Mass but not receive the Holy Eucharist. The excommunicated are forbidden from employment or holding any position of authority in a diocese or parish. They are also deprived of a Catholic burial.

The following offenses warrant excommunication as a result of a judgment from a church authority:
• Pretended celebration of the Holy Eucharist (Mass) or conferral of sacramental absolution by one not a priest
• Violation of confessional seal by interpreter and others
Some excommunications, however, are automatic (effective at the moment the act is committed) and without the intervention of the Church. Catholics are automatically excommunicated for committing these offenses:
• Procuring of abortion
• Apostasy: The total rejection of the Christian faith.
• Heresy: The obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth, which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith.
• Schism: The rejection of the authority and jurisdiction of the pope as head of the Church.
• Desecration of sacred species (Holy Communion)
• Physical attack on the pope
• Sacramental absolution of an accomplice in sin against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments
• Unauthorized episcopal (bishop) consecration
• Direct violation of confessional seal by confessor
The local bishop has the authority to remove most excommunications, but many bishops delegate this power to all their parish priests when it involves a penitent confessing the mortal sin of abortion. This way, the person going to confession can simultaneously have the sin absolved and the excommunication lifted. This is to make it easier for people to go to confession and reconcile themselves with God and the Church, especially after a very emotional, personal, and serious matter, such as abortion. Some excommunications, however, are so serious that only the pope or his delegate can remove the penalty. Other types of penalties
In addition to excommunication, the Code of Canon Law has other types of penalties:
• Suspension: The Church forbids a suspended cleric (priest, deacon, or bishop) to exercise his ordained ministry and to wear clerical garb. However, suspension doesn’t deprive the cleric of receiving the sacraments.
• Interdict: This is a temporary penalty that can be applied to one or more persons or even a whole town or area. Under this punishment, the persons named can’t receive the sacraments, but they aren’t excommunicated, so they still can receive income from a diocese or parish, hold office, and so on. It is lifted when the person repents and seeks reconciliation.

When Does A Church Need An Attorney?

When someone is starting or joining leadership in a religious institution, legal considerations are often towards the bottom of the priority list. However, religious institutions of all faiths need to be aware of areas where they may need advice from a licensed attorney in order to best serve their membership and carry out their faith. Here are some of the most common areas where a church or other religious organization should consult an attorney.

Governing Documents

The majority of religious organizations operate under the direction of one or more governing documents. It is absolutely vital that these documents be kept up to date and reviewed on a regular basis. An attorney will be able to provide valuable advice and suggestions about what to include in these documents to give the maximum protection to the organization.

Real Estate and Land Use

If your religious institution needs to move locations or expand its current location, an attorney will often be necessary. In this case, an attorney can help with reviewing your real estate transaction documents, determining whether your land use is permitted in the proposed location, or securing a variance or special use permit from the municipality if necessary.

Employment

When hiring and firing lay employees, religious institutions must consider state and federal employment law. Discussing particular employment situations with an attorney before acting can save an organization thousands of dollars and an immeasurable amount of negative public perception. Further, an attorney can help prevent difficult situations in the first place by providing your organization with a clear and comprehensive employee handbook.

Litigation

This is the obvious scenario where an attorney is needed. If a religious institution is presented with a lawsuit, it should immediately seek out an attorney with experience representing religious institutions, as the unique culture and issues in these types of lawsuits often call for a specialist. An attorney specializing in representing religious institutions will be able to better understand issues that are important to the organization, and will be familiar with the special challenges and opportunities presented.

Denominational Relations

In today’s changing culture, many of the traditional denominations in Utah are changing also. It is inevitable that some congregations will feel called away from their past denominational affiliations for one or more reasons. When separation is being considered, it is vital to consult an attorney who is familiar with the process of leaving a denomination. Various legal issues will need to be considered before undertaking a separation and an understanding and knowledgeable counselor will ease the transition for all involved.

Organizational Discipline

Many faiths have unique practices for disciplining individual members when necessary. However, there can be potential for some inter-organizational discipline practices to create legal issues. Having an attorney review organizational policy and provide advice on a particular issue can prevent unintended legal consequences.

Advice on Current Legal Issues

As the culture changes rapidly, new legal issues arise frequently. Religious organizations must be prepared to operate in the light of these new realities. In these cases, an attorney will be an invaluable resource as a counselor who understands both the law and the client, and will be able to shed light on an otherwise confusing situation.

Free Initial Consultation with Lawyer

It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

Ascent Law LLC

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